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The Four Worlds

The Tree of LifeThe Tree of Life
The Four WorldsThe Four Worlds

Much can be gained from considering the Tree of Life as complete in itself, but Kabbalists further refine the system by viewing the Tree as acting in or through four different levels or worlds, which form a hierarchy of their own. Just as from Kether to Malkuth there is a successive movement from the abstract to the manifest, so there is in the Kabbalistic worlds from Atziluth to Assiah:

Atziluth Archetypal World (World of Emanations) or Divine World
Briah Creative World or World of Thrones
Yetsirah Formative World
Assiah Manifest World

These four worlds can be considered as a linear hierarchy, with each world containing its own full Tree, in which Malkuth in one world becomes Kether of the world below, and Kether of one world becomes Malkuth of the world above (as shown to the left). Malkuth is seen as the complementary fulfillment of Kether: the first is Divine Immanence, the latter Divine Transcendence.

Another approach is to view the four worlds as being conveyed through a single Tree, as shown above. Atziluth is expressed through the sefirot Kether and Chokmah, Briah through Binah, Yetsirah through the six sefirot Chesed to Yesod, and Assiah through Malkuth. (Some prefer to view Atziluth as acting through Kether alone and Briah as acting through both Chokmah and Binah.)

Either system of one or four Trees is equally valid, and the choice of which to use depends on context, in the same way that a physicist may choose to view light as a wave of energy or a stream of particles depending on circumstance. A further outlook is that each sefira can be seen as a whole Tree itself, giving ten Trees and one hundred sefirot. Kabbalistically these numbers can be considered equivalent as, using effectively numerological techniques, 100, 10 and 1 are fundamentally one (1+0+0 = 1+0 = 1).

The fourfold aspect given to each sefira by its existence in each of the four worlds allows application of the Kabbalah to fourfold systems such as the western elements (Fire, Air, Water and Earth), the letters of the Tetragrammaton (Hebrew Name of God: Yod, He, Vau, final He), the Jungian functions and the Minor Arcana of the Tarot. The latter is very important in the Western Kabbalah: each of the four Tarot suits contains precisely ten numbered cards (as do our modern playing cards, which are derived from the Tarot), and so a Tarot deck contains a representation of the Tree in each of four worlds. The four court cards in each suit offer a further fourfold correspondence, and each of the 22 Major Arcana cards corresponds to one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and to one of the 22 paths joining the sefirot on the Tree of Life.

World Element Keyword Archangel Direction Tarot suit Tetragrammaton
Atziluth Fire Force Michael South Wands Yod
Briah Water Pattern Gabriel West Cups He
Yetsirah Air Activity Raphael East Swords Vau
Assiah Earth Form Uriel North Pentacles He (final)

For use in prayer, meditation or magic, each sefira is assigned a Name of God to represent its essence in Atziluth, an Archangel for Briah, an Angelic Host for Yetsirah, and a Mundane Chakra (generally expressed through planetary forces) for Assiah.

Sefira Divine Name (Atziluth) Archangel (Briah) Angelic Host (Yetsirah) Mundane Chakra (Assiah)
Kether Eheieh
("I am")
Metatron Chioth Ha Qodesh Rashith ha-Gilgalim,
Primum Mobile
Chokmah Yah
Ratziel Auphanium Mazloth,
Binah Yhvh Elohim
("Lord God")
Tzaphkiel Aralim Shabbathai,
Chesed El
Tzadkiel Chasmalim Tzedek,
Geburah Elohim Gibor
("Almighty God")
Khamael Seraphim Madim,
Tifereth Yhvh Eloah ve-Daath
("Lord God of Knowledge")
Mikael Malakim Shemesh,
Netsach Yhvh Tzabaoth
("Lord of Hosts")
Auriel Elohim Nogah,
Hod Elohim Tzaboath
("God of Hosts")
Raphael Beni Elohim Kokab,
Yesod Shaddai El Chai
("Almighty Living God")
Gabriel Ashim Levanah,
Malkuth Adonai ha-Aretz
("Lord of Earth")
Sandalphon Kerubim Cholam Yesodoth,